Don Post Studio’s remarkable Wolf Man mask. The mask was modeled after actor Lon Chaney Jr.‘s portrayal of the beast in 1941’s ‘The Wolf Man.’
According to accounts concerning Don Post’s early years, he paid a visit to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus with the goal of meeting Ringling Bros. resident star clown, Paul Wenzel so he could get a close look at Wenzel’s famous Popeye the Sailor mask. Wenzel was not only a skilled clown, but he was also a master prop maker, and his act was known for featuring all kinds of dazzling homemade extras for the time, such as enormous dragons (Wenzel himself was 6"4), dinosaurs, and horses as well as Wenzel’s feathered pal, Samson the Goose. Seeing Wenzel’s props up close sent Post off on a mission to launch his own business—Don Post Studios (DPS), which would produce some of the first over-the-head latex masks.
In 1938 at the age of 36, Post established his company which would continue to produce latex masks for a staggering 74 years before being sold rather suddenly in 2012. For decades Don Post (who passed away in 1979), his son Don Post Jr., and sculptors/artists/co-owner Verne Langdon and Pat Newman (and many others such as Bill Malone, Marcel Delgado, Robert Short and Neil Surges) would define what their young customer base was going to look like when they stepped out on October 31st. Post started selling his masks out of Marshall Fields in Chicago before ditching the department store for Hollywood where he would eventually join forces with Universal Studios earning the right to produce over-the-head latex masks based on Universal’s gang of classic monsters, the first being Frankenstein’s Monster. Post’s new alliance with Universal would quickly lead to the creation of other high-profile masks all sculpted by Pat Newman, including Lon Chaney’s portrayal of the Phantom of the Opera, Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man.
With the help of Famous Monsters of Filmland’s editor Forrest J Ackerman, DPS would become a household name with its army of masks with plenty of mythology attached to them. Here are just a few of the more interesting ones.
There is an established connection between actor William Shatner’s life-mask cast (taken in 1975 while he was shooting The Devil’s Rain, a perfect film to watch this time of year) and the white-faced, lifeless mask made famous by actor Tony Moran in order to transform him into the unstoppable slasher, Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s 1978 blood-blitz Halloween. There is also a female version of the Myers mask—which is very rare. However, the mask eventually made and distributed by DPS wasn’t an actual replica of Shatner’s life-cast, as their license for the mask was no longer good, so Nick Surges was called in to craft a new mask called the “Everyman.” This mask would be one of Post’s all-time biggest sellers along with his mask of Tor Johnson (done by artist/sculptor and VP of DPS, John Chambers) as Inspector Daniel Clay in Plan 9 From Outer Space.
The original design and color scheme for DPS’s “B Garret Theta” mask.
Another cool bit of history with DPS concerns a mask called “B Garret Theta” (pictured above). When B Garret was first conceptualized and brought to market in 1977, it was ahead of its time in the gore department. Looking back at the initial production run now it looked much like an unfortunate skinless victim of the Cenobites from future horror movie series Hellraiser and was touted as the first “blood and guts” zombie mask. Even DPS’ regular customers and buyers thought the mask was far too graphic and refused to market them. The masks were later redesigned to appear more undead with grey, necrotized skin and other color treatments to help it read more like a zombie than an actual corpse.
A few years later in 1979, Post put out the “Nuclear Death” mask during a time when paranoia about nukes and the potential of a full-on apocalypse were high, only to change the name to the tamer “Over-Reactor” the following year. DPS masks were still hugely popular but with the arrival of AIDS, the demand for latex products in the medical community, as well as the sale of condoms, put a massive dent in the company’s ability to satisfy requests for their masks and would nearly go bankrupt. The other thing working against DPS in the 80s were the horrific deaths of seven people (including a twelve-year-old child) after ingesting Tylenol laced with cyanide about a month from Halloween in 1982. Following this, drug-tampering crimes became a disturbing trend, and as Halloween approached, there were reports of Halloween candy being laced with sharp pins. This, of course, created legitimate hysteria concerning Halloween no longer being a safe pursuit and sales of candy and other Halloween-related items such as Post’s masks plummeted. But still, as we all do, DPS persisted.
The contributions made by Don Post and DPS are unrivaled and helped pave the way for the application of practical effects in films and television, thanks to a fateful meeting with an adventurous horror-loving innovator, and one of the greatest circus clowns to ever live. When DPS closed up shop in 2012, it sent shock waves through the horror community. Lee Lambert, a mask collector who as a child was a rabid fan of 70s horror, took on the task of authoring a book on Don Post’s legacy ensuring his artifacts from the past would always be available for fans for years to come. The incredible book, The Illustrated History of Don Post Studios painstakingly catalogued images of DPS’ work through the years including incredible color photos from magazine adverts and from the company’s collectible catalog. Vintage DPS masks can be found out there online for various sums, as well as authentic, hand-painted castings from the Universal Monster collection, which will run you many thousands of dollars. I’ve got a pretty stellar grouping of Post’s work in this post, some are slightly NSFW.
Famous, long-time Ringling Bros. clown and inspiration to Don Post, Paul Wenzel riding a giant dinosaur he made with wire and other materials.
Don Post doing what he clearly did best.
Inside the DPS workshop in 1974.
More after the jump…